Knee-deep in warm Atlantic shallows, my dad and I laughed and whooped. Despite the net with the too-large holes, despite the late start to the day, we were proving my aunt wrong and hauling in a small feast of wild shrimp to kick off a family meal that evening – a meal that could have killed me.
I hadn’t planned to taste death. When my family arrived in Buarcos, a tiny fishing village on the Portuguese coast, I was looking forward only to books on the beach and beer at the cafés. And maybe, if sloth abated, a hike through the eucalyptus forests on the nearby mini-mountain.
But one evening my dad casually mentioned that, as a boy, he was known throughout town as “Rei dos Penedos” – the King of the Sea Rocks.
He was referring to the limpet-spackled sedimentary stretches revealed by low tides, from which enterprising young men pull satchels of shellfish from the sea.
Though my grandmother confirmed both the title and my dad’s childhood proficiency, my Aunt Natalie scoffed at the idea he could repeat those early successes: “Yeah, you could still bring home some shrimp. From the market.”
Eager to defend my dad (and, secretly, to claim the title of Dauphin to the Sea Rocks), I decreed we would take to the sea and scare up a meal of legendary portions.
Three days later, we carried a cousin-constructed net into the ocean.
The shrimping technique is this: With a pole in each hand, you jigger along where rock meets seabed. Net stretched wide, you wade forward as dozens of shrimp scissor toward their doom. You then raise both poles from the water to create what is essentially a giant, slack colander, only to discover that the holes in your netting are far too loose, and that all your shrimp have escaped.
After a few curses for the net-building cousin, we jury-rigged the netting with slicks of seaweed and engaged again. To moderate success! Pass after pass, it was the same: Three shrimp! Five shrimp! One shrimp! One shrimp! One shrimp! We eventually carried home a mighty sack of tiny, translucent shellfish, our titles proven.
A simple recipe followed – wine, sweet onion, parsley – we dug in, proud as princes, but after two bites, my throat began closing up.
All of a sudden, it felt like I was breathing through a straw. A really narrow, terrifying one.
I quickly swallowed a measure of allergy medicine.
Luckily, my reaction levelled off and my breathing returned to normal. I’ve been told that’s the rare best-case scenario for an emerging allergy.
For which I’m grateful. I suppose I felt relief at the time, but honestly? My prevailing memory is that of betrayal. Shrimp and I had always had, if not a friendship, then something close to it.
Sadly, I haven’t eaten shrimp since. That’s pretty tough for any seafood lover, let alone a newly crowned Dauphin, to swallow.
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